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Frank Willard's Moon Mullins (October 5, 1924)
Authors: Frank Willard, Ferd Johnson
Current status / schedule: Concluded
Launch date: June 19, 1923
End date: June 2, 1991
Syndicates: Chicago Tribune / New York News Syndicate
Publishers: Dover Publications, Whitman Publishing, Cupples & Leon
Moon Mullins, created by cartoonist Frank Willard (1893 - 1958). It was a popular American comic strip which had a long run as both a daily and Sunday feature from June 19, 1923 to June 2, 1991. Syndicated by the Chicago Tribune / New York News Syndicate, the strip depicts the lives of diverse low brow characters who reside at the Schmaltz (later Plushbottom) boarding house. The central character, Moon (short for Moonshine), is a would be prizefighter, perpetually strapped for cash but with a roguish appetite for vice and high living. Moon took a room in the boarding house at 1323 Wump Street in 1924 and never left, staying on for 67 years.
Origins and history
Frank Henry Willard was born on September 21, 1893 in Anna, Illinois, the son of a physician, who early on determined to become a cartoonist. After attending the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago in 1913, he was a staff artist with the Chicago Herald (1914 - 1918), where he drew the Sunday kids' page Tom, Dick and Harry and another strip, Mrs. Pippin's Husband. He next wrote and drew The Outta Luck Club for King Features Syndicate (1919 - 1923).
In The Comics (1947), Coulton Waugh described Willard's art style as ''gritty looking''. In 2003, the Scoop newsletter documented the 1923 events that led to the creation of the strip:
Moon was a tough talking, if generally good natured, kind of guy who took (and dealt) plenty of punches during his run. And actually, those are very appropriate characteristics. See, back before Moon was created, Frank Willard was working on a strip called The Outta Luck Club for King Features Syndicate. That's when he got the notion that some of his ideas were being slipped to fellow cartoonist George McManus (creator of Bringing Up Father). So, in typical Moon Mullins fashion, Willard approached McManus and gave him a wallop that knocked the latter out cold and got the former fired. That little episode didn't stop Captain Joe Patterson's interest from being piqued, however, and Willard soon set to work on a new strip for the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. That strip was Moon Mullins...
Ah, Moon Mullins! He made a horrible role model but a hilarious star nonetheless, as did his assorted pals... Adventures included stints in jail, trysts with stolen cars, failed employment opportunities, misunderstandings and plenty of black eyes for all. Yet, there was a certain lightness to all of Moon's debaucheries that made his low down ways pretty charming...
Reportedly, the strip was originally intended as a rival for King Features' Barney Google, also about a lovable, banjo eyed lowlife at home in the sporting world. It proved so popular that men named Mullins, born from about the 1910s through the 1960s, were as likely as not to be nicknamed ''Moon''. Willard was in tune with the working class characters he created, as noted by David Westbrook in From Hogan's Alley to Coconino County: Four Narratives of the Early Comic Strip:
Some comic strip artists laid claim to a similar working class authenticity by representing themselves in the position of employee. When Frank Willard, author of Moon Mullins, narrates a scene from his workplace, he portrays himself as a rowdy underdog much like The Yellow Kid. He becomes, in effect, the ''tricky and roguish'' character cited by Gilbert Seldes as the quintessence of the comic strip.
''I worked for a syndicate manager once who got everybody in the place together once a week and jumped on a desk and gave us 'pep talks'. He didn't give us ideas, but, oh boy, how worn out we were after those pep talks. The guy that applauded the loudest got the most money, and I didn't get much, as he found out who it was who gave him the bird!'' - Frank Willard, as related to Martin Sheridan
When Brennecke (in ''The Real Mission of the Funny Paper'' by Ernest Brennecke, from The Century Magazine, March 1924) locates the truth of comic strip realism in the comics' habit of ''commenting trenchantly'' on ''the life of the middle classes'', it is comics like ''The Yellow Kid'' and artists like Willard that he has in mind...
Characters and story
Moon Mullins: with his big eyes, plaid pants, perpetual cigar and yellow derby hat; Moon is an amiable roughneck amid a cast of roughnecks. He haunts saloons, racetracks and pool halls, mangles the English language with Jazz Age slang, and gets into endless scrapes looking for an easy buck or a hot dame. Moon himself is a low rent but likeable sort of riff raff, involved in get rich schemes and bootleg whiskey, crap games and staying out all night with disreputable friends. None of the roughhousing was fatal or even particularly threatening, however. Indeed, the gentleness of the situational humor behind all the characters' rough edges kept the strip on an even keel. The name ''Moonshine'' referenced Mullins as a drinker and gambler during Prohibition.
Kayo: Moon's street urchin kid brother, who sleeps in an open dresser drawer, one of the strip's most iconic images. Kayo is usually clad in suspenders, polka dot pants and a black derby. Pint sized Kayo (a play on ''K.O.'', sportswriters' shorthand for a knockout punch) is wise beyond his years and even a bit of a cynic. His plain speaking, matter of fact bluntness is a frequent source of comedy. Full of mischief and bad grammar, Kayo is a good deal more of the ruffian than Moon.
Uncle Willie: introduced in 1927; Moon's long lost, no account Uncle wears a checkered suit and is perpetually unshaven. Willie, who would disappear for months at a time, prefers the hobo life, despite being married and half domesticated. His only occupation seems to be the avoidance of physical labor and confrontations with his formidable wife, Mamie.